Warning: Warm and fluffy feelings. Stupidity. Slowness.
One Step Forward
It was two pm on Sunday and all was quiet in the doctor's camp. Outlanders and humans milled about casually, with only a skeleton crew on duty. Since they had managed to erect a hospital tent much closer to the camp and move most of the patients there, they managed to relax their routine. Although they still had shifts that they rotated, having the whole camp close by meant that everyone was on hand at all times. Whoever was available, rested and closest would attend to whatever was needed. People could duck in at any time and see to patients, grab a snack and go right back to work.
The attitude was relaxed and calm.
It had taken the better part of a week to erect the tent, which was formed by heavy sheets of canvas provided by MNU and sewn together by the Outlanders and humans both, coupled with long strips of duct tape to take up any tension. It could house about two hundred patients, and they were preparing another one to be put up within the month. The half-finished tarp lay to one side, being played with by some young Outlanders who enjoyed jumping on and crawling around beneath it.
Graham and a dark-skinned architect from Johannesburg were overseeing the construction of a makeshift surgery tent. They had decided that Graham, having had experience in doing surgery on the field, would better know what they absolutely needed rather than doctors that had spent time in the cities and hospitals with resources and money. Meghan and Chelsea offered what opinions they could, but even they acknowledged that Graham had a better knowledge on the difference between necessities and commodities then they did.
Some of the med techs and a few Outlanders were playing soccer off to one side, using a pole, two bins and a wooden post as goals. The Outlanders were winning, even though they were outnumbered. One of the med techs was cleaning the mess tent, an iPod in her ear as she danced around to the music. Anna was taking an inventory check, her left antennae tapping along to the music her keen ear could hear.
Natalie and a couple of med techs were playing with some of the children, happily occupying them as their parents or their adoptive carers rested, ate, or scavenged through garbage. She had gotten permission to study the children's behaviour and traits for better understanding of their ways, as long as the children, carers and parents were all aware. She had also begun to sketch Outlanders in various stages of physical development and her tent was littered with the pictures.
Callum was dozing in his tent, because he was useless for anything else.
Outside of Chelsea's tent, Alexander was playing with two cans as Michael sat at the entrance, reading one of Chelsea's medical books. The flaps of Chelsea's tent were held back by massive clips, letting the air flow inside as she worked.
She was bent over her desk, pouring over notes and text books as she wrote down new ways to treat Outlanders, new ways to recognize what was wrong. Due to her often flaking on her shifts to spend time with Michael and Alexander, she had volunteered, along with Meghan, to do most of the bookwork and research. As it was, she and Meghan had established a large compendium of knowledge on treating the Outlanders.
Initially Michael would have been angry to see her studying and scrutinizing his people, but when he saw how she worked, he had been rendered silent. Before their acceptance of a friendship-that-toed-the-line-of-something-more, he had never really seen her work except to actually treat his people. But only now did he truly appreciate the level of study, concentration and practice that came with such skills. The level of dedication. Even Anna had admitted that she had limited knowledge on how to treat her people. The level of expertise demanded by humans when it came to doctoring had been staggering for them. Even reading the books she was expected to know through her education, he gained a new appreciation of the level of commitment a doctor would have to have to be successful.
All of the doctors had confirmed that to remain adept at their field, they had to keep learning. Every time a new diagnosis was created, they had to learn it. Every time a new disease evolved, they had to be able to recognize and treat it. Every new procedure, treatment or inability to apply it was to be constantly updated within their memories. From what he was reading, the sheer scope of the knowledge was… staggering.
Chelsea was wholly dedicated to such learning. She became a completely different person when she was working, utterly absorbed in her work.
It gave him a new appreciation of her.
A muted groan drew Michael's attention to the tent and he saw the human in question sag back in her chair, grinding a knuckle into her eye.
She glanced at him, and then smiled tiredly, "Nothing. I'm just going cross-eyed from all of this research." She tucked a pen behind her ear and flicked some pages back and forth, before making some notes in one of her books with a pencil. Resting her elbow on the desk, her hand covering her mouth, she went back to reading and writing and Michael quickly realized she was gone again.
Shaking his head, he turned back to the book, turning a page and resuming his own study.
The human body was utterly disgusting.
For instance, human females fed their young from their bodies. 'Mammary glands' they were called. Breasts. That secreted a substance that the infants consumed.
Michael lifted the book so Alexander could get into his lap, "That is human male genitalia."
"They use it for reproduction."
Humans also had some sort of strange proprietary when it came to bodily functions. Defecation and urination were utterly private matters that they even used euphemisms for when discussing with others. Whilst some euphemisms could be crass and rude, others were utterly ridiculous.
Like 'number one and 'number two'.
They covered certain parts of their bodies at all times, yet kept others uncovered. Like their noses. Hideous things. But their breasts and genital regions were always covered.
He remembered the humans demanding that the Outlanders cover those parts of themselves. Though they had seen no point at the time, they had acquiesced to the demands. Less of them died that way.
Even now, he still did not understand it. Why cover that which was necessary for reproduction? It simply made the process more complicated than it needed to be, and human reproduction was complicated enough! Not only was the act of intercourse required for a child to be made, the motions of sex itself were beyond him. Why must such actions be taken for fertilization? They seemed entirely unnecessary. Unlike his kind, who would periodically exchange genetic information through the receptacles located low in their abdomen through a few seconds of attachment, human intercourse could last for several minutes.
What if they were interrupted? What if they had something more pressing to do than procreate?
And the diseases!
"Does it just hang like that?"
"But it's not protected!"
"I know. The notion of having something so vital so vulnerable is beyond me. And apparently it is highly sensitive to pain."
"Indeed. If any part is impacted in any sort of way, it can cause excruciating pain. Even physical damage."
"Why isn't it protected then?"
"Humans are strange."
"Very. Does Chelsea have this?"
"Chelsea is female. She has this sort." Michael turned the pages until he located pictures of female genitalia.
Humans were also very keen on keeping the functions of reproduction away from their young. When they had discovered that all young knew how to reproduce, they had been mildly shocked. According the Chelsea, human children were not taught about reproduction, as they did not have to know about it. When they matured, they were told about it.
Ridiculous. What was the point in hiding a natural function from them? Perhaps they were unable to reproduce at a young age, but that didn't mean they couldn't know about it.
If a child lacked the height to open a door, you would not prevent them from knowing the door opened until they were tall enough.
"Humans are gross."
Michael rumbled his assent as he turned back to the page he was on.
"But even though she is ugly, Chelsea is nice. And Graham said, for a human, she is pretty."
Michael was quiet for a moment. He did not know Chelsea was attractive for a human. Then again, he did not know what was attractive for a human. He shook his head and exhaled, "She might be ugly… but I don't mind."
Alexander's antennae twitched as he looked up at Michael, "Do you like her?"
Michael looked back at him, before putting his hand on Alexander's head, "More than I should."
Alexander tilted his head, confused and grasped Michael's hand, moving it off his head, "How can you like someone more than you should? If you like them, then you like them. How can that be bad?"
"Because she is a human. And she is not one of our kind."
"Does liking her make you happy?"
Michael glanced off to one side, his brows drawing together. Did liking Chelsea make him happy? Just a few weeks ago it had caused him great anguish. But now things were different. Now they were different. Now he was different.
"Yes. It does."
"Then that's all that matters."
Michael blinked, glancing down at Alexander again, before drawing his maxillae in a smile.
"Yes. I suppose it is."
Suddenly Chelsea rocked backwards again, "Christ!"
Michael and Alexander both jumped, spinning to look at her, "What?"
"My report." She rummaged around on her desk until she picked up a slender USB. "I forgot to bring it to Meghan yesterday." She rubbed her face and climbed to her feet.
Michael's antennae swayed from left to right, "Report?"
"MNU wants progress and situation reports. In 'minute detail'." She made air quotations with her fingers. "Whatever. As long as they stay off my back, I can slap some words on a page for them. But I need to take this to Meghan."
"Do you want me to take it?" Alexander hopped over to her, all wide-eyed eagerness. "I can take it."
"Nah, little man. I'll do it." Chelsea leant down to kiss his forehead. "You stay with Michael and…" She stared at the page Michael was on. "… Look at yeast infections."
She patted Michael's shoulder as she went past, shaking her head, before jogging to the research tent where Meghan spent most of her hours. Stepping around the edge, she poked her nose in like a cautious cat. Meghan had been slightly disapproving of Chelsea's new casual attitude toward her duties. But her dedication to her research made up for her new focus on her friendship with Michael.
Chelsea was unapologetic. She knew, now, how much Michael's friendship meant to her. Graham, Natalie and Callum were growing to be good friends, but she was at a point where she was invested in Michael. She wouldn't jeopardize that. Not even for the reason she had come to District 10 originally.
Amazing how one's priorities could shift.
The older woman lifted her head from the microscope she was peering into, blinking blearily. Rubbing her eyes, she shifted her glasses from her neck onto her face, turning towards Chelsea and closing a folder beside her. "Hello, Chelsea. What can I do for you?"
Chelsea produced the USB, "I finished the report. Yesterday. Sorry about that."
"Ah. Yes. I was wondering where it was. Don't worry about it though." She took the USB from Chelsea and went about labelling it and putting it in a box with several others. "You look about as frazzled as I feel. The research wearing on you?"
Chelsea lingered at Meghan's shoulder, "Something like that. What are you working on?"
Meghan moved aside and gestured at the microscope, allowing Chelsea to have a look. "It's… some sort of disease that I found among the Outlanders. Non-fatal, but it can be debilitating for a while. I'm checking its effect on humans and through that hoping to find a short-cut treatment until we can do a deeper study."
"What? With cross-diagnosis?"
"Will that work?" Chelsea's words were not sceptical, but rather highly interested.
Meghan shrugged one of her shoulders. "For all of the external differences, Outlander and human physiology isn't that dissimilar, at least where it matters. Thank Christ for small mercies."
"Would make sense considering that they can live on the same world comfortably."
"Yes, that was what I was thinking. Of course there are still minor differences, their DNA is shaped differently and there are a few genetic code dump sites that are different."
"And they can eat tyres."
Meghan smiled and leaned back, "Yes."
"Thinking about jabbing any of us with it for research purposes?"
Meghan laughed quietly, "No, nothing like that. Don't worry, you're all more valuable to me as doctors than lab rats."
"Well that's good to know. If… uh, that changes, be sure to give me a heads up, okay? And if you need any help, well, let me know." Chelsea stepped back. "I'm not that great at pathology, though."
Meghan waved her hand, "Nono, I should be fine. But there is going to be a diagnosis session over dinner."
"I thought you said no science over the table?"
"Doctors with new discoveries, I have found, are like children at Christmas."
"Morbid," Chelsea nodded, glancing up. "But appropriate, I suppose. Alright. I'll bring Michael and Anna."
"The more the merrier."
Chelsea was about to step out, before she turned back in, "Hey, I'm going stir crazy from research. You mind if I make a couple of house-calls before dinner?"
"Of course. But before you go, I want to ask you something."
Chelsea, fearing the worst, smiled, "Hit me."
"What would you give the Outlanders if you could, Chelsea? What would you grant them, in light of what has happened to them and considering what they deserved in the first place?"
Thrown off, Chelsea lowered her brows, "I… Uh…"
Meghan smiled, "Think about it, would you? I'd be eager to hear your answer. You seem to care a great deal about them, and I know you like to think the best of humans. But… I just want to know what you think."
"Yeah. Sure. Okay." Chelsea eyed Meghan, before jabbing her thumb over her shoulder. "I'm gonna go make those house calls." She stepped back and out of the tent, before turning into the sun. "Well that was odd." She returned to her tent, shaking her head. Coming to a stop beside Michael, she nudges his foot with her boot. "Feel like going for a walk?"
He lifted his head from his book to look at his foot, then at her, "Where?"
"I promised one of the Outlanders I'd come to check on him." She paused, remembering that Alexander had told her to keep away from the one with the bandaged hand. But a promise was a promise, and she thought Michael might understand. "So I thought I'd go see him before dinner. Do you want to be my big, strong bodyguard?" Michael seemed to take a moment to process that, and she added sweetly, "From the scorpions and spiders, of course."
Michael gave an Outlander snort, which sounded remarkably like a horse's snort, "Of course."
Chelsea stepped past him with a smile as she closed her laptop and scooped up her backpack. Checking what was in it, she shook it closed, satisfied with the contents. Michael was pulling the clips free of her tent walls after putting away her book when Alexander poked his head between his elder's legs.
"Can I go play with Natalie?"
Chelsea crouched down and grinned at him, "On one condition?"
Alexander stared up at her with wide eyes that said 'Anything for you'. Michael glanced over, twitching one of his antennae.
"When we leave, you have to jump on Callum and wake his lazy Scottish ass up. He needs to do some work. If he can't find anything, he can relieve Natalie of babysitting duty."
Michael cast an arch look at Chelsea, "You are mean to that man."
"It's all in good fun." She spread her hands, before looking contrite, "Should I stop?"
"Did I say that?"
Chelsea laughed as she headed towards the medical tent, "I'm going to go get some supplies."
Michael smiled, liking the sound of her laughter. Pushing himself to his feet, he closed the book and set it down on her desk. Removing the clips holding the flaps of her tent back, he tossed them on top of the book, before smoothing the canvas panels down. The two of them were functioning well together. He knew her routines, and he knew what he could do for her. In return, she knew what he liked and what she could do for him.
Strange. Michael patted the canvas in silence. Strange how things progressed. The way they interacted was… He shook his head and stepped back.
A moment later he was standing in the doorway of the medical supplies tent as she tossed a sachet of gauze into her pack. Shaking it, she zipped it up and tossed it onto her back.
"Forward, men!" she said, hand in the air. Michael just shook his head and followed behind her.
As they passed the MNU guard, who actually lifted their hands to wave, a shout rang through the camp, a cry that came from one of the tents that Alexander had disappeared to.
Chelsea was quiet.
Michael watched her back as they walked, her hands stuffed in her pockets, her shoulders thrown back, her chin up. She seemed to know where she was going, which was a direction that was almost like they were heading towards his tent. But he knew they were not. She was visiting someone that lived near him.
Michael ran through the Outlanders that had their tents near his. They were generally the less sociable sort, keeping to themselves. Some were older and simply disliked the company of the youth. Some were gang members that could not organize themselves well enough to form any sort of threat.
One was Adam, the scarred Outlander that had harmed Chelsea. Of him, Michael had seen and scented nothing. Either he was avoiding Michael, or… well he had to be avoiding Michael.
Michael made a note to find out why.
"Where are we going?"
"To see a patient."
She was being evasive, now. Michael scowled at the back of her head.
"Why don't you want me to know who you're seeing?"
"Okay, when you guys get smart, you get absurdly smart. And it's not that I don't want you to know. It's that I'm… not entirely sure you won't be mad at me for it."
"Why would I be mad?"
"Alexander might have mentioned that you guys don't like the younglings going near him…" she hedged, hunching her shoulders.
Michael was silent, before he jerked to a stop, causing Chelsea to look back. "How do you know him?"
"I don't," she said quickly. "He helped me when I was coming to visit you. He has a bung hand and I fixed it up. Nothing really bad. I mean, for losing a finger he seemed to be healing pretty damn well."
"What did he say to you?"
"Nothing!" Chelsea's brows winged up as she turned. "He was quite hostile, but it was more like he just didn't want me near him. Or him near me. It was very strange." She glanced off to the side, before scowling at Michael. "Why aren't the kids allowed near him?"
Michael stared at Chelsea for a time, silently weighing his options. He could just tell her. Tell her that Gerome the Outlander was actually Wikus van der Merwe the human. Tell her that he was so brutal and hostile in his human days that no Outlander wanted to willingly associate with him. Tell her that the Outlander she was trying to help was actually a human who killed young Outlanders and caused them much suffering.
An MNU officer.
"It's not my secret."
Chelsea accepted that readily, nodding, "Alright. Is it his secret?"
Michael nodded, once, "I doubt he'll tell you."
"Can't hurt to try. I don't want to be afraid of him if I don't have to be. Conversely, I don't want to be near him if I have a reason to be afraid."
"I would never let him near you if he were a danger to you, Chelsea." Michael spoke the words before he thought of them.
Chelsea smiled at him, rewarding his thoughtlessness with trust and honesty, "I know."
Michael breathed deeply, regarding Chelsea in silence. After a moment contemplating this strange human and his words to her, Michael turned to point off to one side, "His tent is that way."
"Is it? Damn. I knew I was lost."
The Outlander was sitting outside of his tent, sorting through bits of metal when Michael and Chelsea rounded the row of tents opposite his.
His head came up, startled, as he stared at Chelsea. Obviously he had not expected her return. Then he saw Michael. The Outlander shot backwards like he had been kicked in the chest. Flinging out a hand, he cried, "I don't want him anywhere near me!" Then he vanished inside his tent, tossing the metal behind him.
Chelsea gaped, blinking, before turning on Michael, "What did you do?"
Michael twitched, stunned, before pointing at himself, "What did I do?"
"Why is he so scared of you?"
"I didn't do anything."
Chelsea pursed her lips and then turned to look back at the tent, "So why is he scared?"
Michael's antennae twitched, before he said softly, "The reason that one is scared of me has nothing to do with what I've done."
His reward for such a cryptic comment was a flat expression, "Stay here." She stepped towards the tent and, when she heard Michael step after her, she whirled, pointing at the ground. "No! Stay here, Michael."
He watched her for a moment, and then slowly crouched down, bracing one hand on the ground. He blinked up at her with apparent obedience, cocking his head. She knew that it was anything but, and he was mocking her command, but she didn't have the spirit to be irritated when he was doing as she asked. Or, ordered. Sighing, she turned again and stepped inside the tent, letting the flap close behind her.
"Hey. He's not here. It's just me." She let her eyes adjust to the dark, and found a metal flower next to her cheek. Scowling, she tapped it with a finger, making it swing back and forth. Her eyes turned to the interior of the tent, searching for the Outlander.
He stood stiffly at the back, near the desk with the Christmas tree. His arms were folded around himself and he was hunched in, presenting his profile to Chelsea. As she stared, she realized that the gesture of defensiveness was wholly human. She had never seen an Outlander make it.
"I…" She stepped forward, lifting her hand. "I didn't know bringing him would upset you. I'm sorry."
"You need to go." He waved his good hand at her, pointing one of his clawed fingers. "Just go. Go. My hand is fine. Go."
She didn't move except to shuck her pack, letting it hang from one hand, "I made you a promise."
"Promises to me don't matter. Not… just go!"
"It doesn't matter who the promise is made to, or who by," snapped Chelsea with more heat than she intended. Gentling her voice, she continued, "The promise itself is what matters. I promised to come back, and I have."
"Yes, yes you have. Now go."
Chelsea pointed at the chair beside her, "Sit."
The Outlander made a cry of anger and frustration, striding up to her, "What is wrong with you?"
"I'm stubborn, especially when it comes to my patients. So, now that you are my patient, and I am your doctor, do as you're told and sit."
"You're a human. You're not my doctor."
Chelsea lifted her backpack and thumped it on the table, "We've had this discussion, mister. Sit."
Snorting, he sidled over, staring at the flap to his tent as if he expected Michael to burst through at any time. Then he finally sat, laying his wounded hand on the table.
"Well done," she murmured, taking his wrist and beginning to unwind the bandage. "So why are you so afraid of Michael, anyway?"
"What has he told you about me?" the Outlander gestured at the flap.
"Nothing, stubbornly obtuse man. … Thing. Whatever. You're all men. You have to be. Only men could be this goddamn egotistical." She drew the last of the bandage away and peeled back the gauze. "Oh, this is coming along nicely." She put the hand down and searched for some fresh gauze.
"Men… men aren't egotistical."
She glanced up at the defensiveness of that comment, brow arching, "Sure they are. All chest-beating, macho, must protect the woman, I Tarzan you Jane, swingin' in the trees mentality." She scrubbed the wound as gently as she could and applied a fresh gauze and bandage. "Michael's protective, I suppose. Which is nice, but oh my goodness, it's like being friends with a human male. Which is amazing since Outlanders have no gender differences."
She shrugged gently, "Don't mind him, anyway. He hasn't even told me what's the deal with you and the other Outlanders. He just gave me some cryptic comment on how it's your secret. So if you feel like you want to enlighten me, go ahead."
The Outlander was just staring at her, so Chelsea went ahead and bandaged his hand with a mumbled, "Or I suppose not."
Finally she was done, the rest of the check-up proceeding in silence. This time she left some gauze and bandages behind for him to take care of his own wound, since it didn't seem to need her care anymore. "Just toss 'em when you're done. I don't think I need to see you again." She smiled and patted his shoulder as he rubbed his wrist, watching her. "But feel free to drop by the hospital camp any time for a chat."
She smiled at him. Then she dipped her head when she realized he wasn't going to reciprocate.
Picking up her things, she stepped out of the tent. Her smile turned quietly amused when she saw Michael still crouched where she left him.
"Check up over," she proclaimed with false cheer, closing her eyes. Walking past him, she declared, "Time to go back."
Stopping sharply, Chelsea turned and stared at Michael, who was gazing at the tent.
"I'm just going to talk to him."
"I'm not going to do anything to him, Chelsea. I'm just going to talk."
Chelsea folded her arms over her chest, before she nodded, "I know. I'm sorry. I get protective of my patients."
Michael reached out and put his hand on her head, smoothing it over her hair, "I know. I understand. Wait here." He turned away from her and stepped into the tent, ducking down to bring his antennae safely beneath the metal frame. Instantly the Outlander inside tensed and jerked back, looking around frantically.
"What do you want?"
"You should tell her."
The human mutation stared at the Outlander, his maxillae lax in a very human expression of shock. Then he leant forward, "What the fuck did you just say?"
Michael gestured over his shoulder, "Chelsea. You should tell her the truth about you."
"Are you fucking kidding me? Why the fuck should I tell anyone anything?"
"Because… because I thought you might like another human being to talk to, who knows about you. Chelsea will understand, and she won't tell MNU. It might… help you."
"What the fuck do you care about me, Prawn?"
Michael's shoulders slumped slightly and he shook his head, "I am… trying to help you, Wikus. I am trying… so maybe you should try, too."
"Why the fuck should I?"
"I'm tired of hating, Wikus. I'm tired of hating humans and carrying so much anger in me. Chelsea is… helping that anger turn into something else. Maybe she can help you, too. Aren't you tired of carrying so much anger? So much hate?" Michael looked at Wikus, his head tilting. "I thought being one of us would help you understand. But all it's done is make you crueller, and you're suffering because of it."
"And, what, you want to be a good fucking Samaritan and alleviate that suffering? Bullshit."
"I don't know what motivations humans have," snapped Michael. "But Outlanders sometimes do nice things just for the sake of doing them. That, alone, is all the reason some of us need. At first I thought all humans needed a reason for kindness, but after meeting Chelsea, I realize that's not true. She's a kind human, kind enough for someone like me, and kind enough for someone like you. All we have known in District 9 and District 10 is hate. Maybe it's time for a change." Michael held up a hand as Wikus started to speak. "Think about it, Wikus. You're all alone in District 10. But you don't have to be."
Michael turned and stepped out of the tent, inhaling deeply of the warm afternoon air. His head turned to take in Chelsea, who was staring off into the distance absently, fingering the chain around her throat. Moving up to her carefully, he reached out and caught a stray lock of her hair. Human hair fascinated him. So soft, technically dead, hanging from their heads so uselessly. But it was a thing of vanity for many humans, so carefully tended to and styled. It came in so many different varieties, straight, curled, wavy. So many different colours.
Chelsea glanced over her shoulder, careful not to dislodge the lock he was holding, her mismatched eyes staring up at him.
He gave her an Outlander smile, "Thank you for waiting."
"Well of course," she responded, smirking. "I'd get lost on the way back if I went alone."
Michael snorted and shoved her between the shoulder blades, making her stumble forward, laughing. Admittedly, Chelsea was the only human he felt comfortable enough to touch. The only human he felt comfortable enough to joke with. She teased him, and treated him as an equal. He wished, privately, that he had just trusted her from the start. Instead of spending weeks finding reasons to be angry at her, he could have enjoyed this strangely wonderful friendship.
Just before he vanished between the tents, Michael paused and looked over his shoulder. Wikus was standing at the open entrance of his tent, staring at them. His hands were clenched at his sides, and in one was clutched a metal tin flower.
The two of them shared a silent stare, before Michael turned and loped after Chelsea at her beckoning call.
Chelsea stabbed her fork into her broccoli and waved it at Graham like a trophy, "I don't care how goddamn expedient it would be. We need to do as little damage as possible to their exoskeletons when we go in!"
Graham folded his arms over his chest, "Their exoskeletons heal faster than human bones. It'll be fine."
"That doesn't mean you can crack them like a goddamn lobster to get into their abdominal cavity!"
"Well how else are we going to get in there!"
Michael chewed on a bit of raw meat as he turned his head from the conversation between Chelsea and Graham to Natalie and another doctor, who were discussing Outlander physiology with Anna. Natalie's food was only absently picked at, a scowl between her brows as she scribbled on one of her drawings, nodding along with what Anna was saying. Callum had his nose buried in a surgical book and was making notes and highlighting things. Megan had her fork in her mouth as she flipped through notes she had made during the day.
In fact, everyone around the table was working in one way or another.
"Conversation used to be pleasant."
Alexander stirred in his lap and Michael glanced down. Biting off a bit of meat, he removed it from his mouth and offered it to Alexander. The youngling bit into it eagerly and chewed happily, purring with delight. It was an act between parent and youngling, and Michael found that he enjoyed it. Alexander was not his child, nor he the child's father, but their need was filled by the other. He was content with that.
Another Outlander, a younger one who helped around the camp, snorted as he poked at mashed potatoes, "Strange to see humans working so hard."
"They seem to enjoy it," came another Outlander, his hands resting in his lap as he watched the two humans beside him bicker over the best treatment for some ailment or other.
Michael watched each of them with a small amount of satisfaction. The humans might not know it, but not all of the Outlanders that volunteered to help. Michael had situated himself as being the dominant figure, strongest and smartest of them. In another time, another place, he might have been their leader. But Michael had no desire to lead.
He just had a desire to keep the humans safe.
Keel Chelsea safe.
His eyes tracked back to her, sitting beside him as she acquiesced to Graham's practicality.
"He's right, you know."
Graham's head flew up and he shook his head, eyes wide.
"What?" Chelsea slanted him a look.
"Our external carapace means that you would have to crack it or remove sections to be able to perform surgery on what's beneath. So he's right. It is the best way."
"He's right?" Chelsea propped her elbow up on the table and stared at Michael.
Graham was mouthing, 'No! NO!' but Michael didn't know why he should stop.
"I understand you want to do as little harm to us as possible. But he is right."
Chelsea pursed her lips, before sighing, "I know. But it would just increase the recovery period and I don't want that."
Graham's brows arched up, "I get that, I do. But it's the only way."
"I get it." Chelsea stabbed her fork at him. "You're right. Moving on."
Graham's mouth gaped open as he stared at Michael. "She's fine with you and not me pointing out she's wrong. Bias! Bias!" He thumped the table.
"Someone pass me the salt, please." Natalie groped the air without looking up. "Preferably Graham, before Chelsea kills him."
"I might be short, but there is no way she could take me."
"You want to go, Tomb Thumb?" Chelsea leant forward. "You and me. Outside! Right now!"
"When I allowed science over the table, I did not also allow violence!" hammered Meghan from the end of the table. "Children! Behave!"
"He started it!" shouted Chelsea, pointing at Graham at the same time Graham pointed at her and declared, "She started it!"
"I'm ending it!"
Michael shook his head down at Alexander, "Do not ever grow up to be a human."
"I shall not," he declared primly. "They are far too silly."
As it had with most other nights, the encampment wound down to a quiet close. Chores were done, half the camp attended to hygiene needs and the MNU guards rotated out for the evening. Michael spent most of the afternoon with Graham and Anna, going over the practicality of the new surgery they were setting up. The argument over dinner, it seemed, was due to whether or not they should spend the money on bone saws, which would let them get through the carapace of the Outlanders.
Graham sent out the finalized list of requests with the architect who headed back to Johannesburg, promising to be back within a few days with builders. Michael, however, said that builders were not necessary. The Outlanders were qualified for all of those jobs. The architect, doubtful but willing to go out on a limb, said that he would bring the supplies and pay the wages to all of the Outlanders that helped.
Michael found himself pleased at that outcome and had gone to see Chelsea, loping eagerly to her tent. However, when he stepped inside he pulled up short when he saw her. She had obviously sat down on her bed, lain down on her side and promptly fallen asleep.
Twitching his head to the side, Michael approached Chelsea, crouching down beside her. He examined her for a moment, before his head dipped down to examine her boots. Deftly he undid the laces and loosened them, allowing him to wiggle them off her feet. Setting them to her side, he tucked her socks into each, shifting her feet up onto the bed. Stripping off her outer shirt, he moved the sheet and tucked it carefully around her. After a hesitation, he shifted it a bit more, and then patted her shoulder.
Chelsea remained fast asleep.
Michael rose and settled closer, crouching down beside the bed. His eyes shifted to examine her body, taking her in silently as his antennae tasted the air above her.
"I am glad you did not leave, Chelsea."
The next morning, Michael stood in the open door of Chelsea's tent, staring at her empty bed. It was too early for her to be out and about, as he had deliberately arrived so he could catch her and tell her about what had passed the previous night. But not only was she up, she was clearly dressed.
For a moment Michael wondered, slightly panicked, where she had gone.
"Something wrong, Michael?" Natalie stood at the open door of her own tent, drying her hair. Behind her, Alexander was drawing happily on her bed.
Natalie lowered her towel and pointed at the mess tent. "Breakfast."
"She normally does not eat for a while yet." Whereas dinner seemed a group event, breakfast was whenever anyone could grab it.
Natalie widened her eyes, shrugging, "Apparently she had a hard time sleeping last night."
She had been peacefully asleep when he had left her. "Why?"
Natalie shrugged again. Michael watched her as he walked past, confused, before loping over to the mess tent. Turning around the poles that held it up, he saw Chelsea curled up on one of the benches with a bowl of cereal in front of her. Half-heartedly she poked at it with her spoon, like it would somehow give her answers she wanted or needed.
"Meghan asked me a question yesterday."
Michael tilted his head, realizing Chelsea knew he was there. He approached her slowly, coming to stand beside her as he waited for her to elaborate.
"She asked me… what I would give you guys – the Outlanders – if I could give you anything I wanted. Considering everything you've been through and considering what I think you deserve, what would I give you?" Chelsea picked up a spoonful of soggy rolled oats and bran, before letting it drop back into the bowl. "And… and I don't know. I mean there's the typical… running water. Electricity. Homes." She shrugged. "Equal rights. Education. A structures social welfare system. Government."
She sighed and pushed the bowl away finally, giving up, "But…" She stopped, on the verge of saying something, before soldiering on. "But I thought… I thought I should ask you." Her gaze slanted to him without her turning, "What do you want? Not what you need, or what you think you deserve. I know that. But what do you want?"
Michael considered Chelsea's words for a moment, processing exactly what she meant. Then the Outlander extended his hand to Chelsea, unfurling his fingers. Chelsea's hesitation was one of surprise, but after that she did not pause before she took it, looking up at him. Michael gave her an outlander smile and something uncertain shone in Chelsea's gaze.
That uncertainty gave Michael something else to think about, but not in that moment.
"I'll show you."
Turning, Michael led her out of the mess tent and through the others, towards the back of the doctor's encampment. He guided her down the trench that circled District 10 and eased her up the other side. Together, they approached the twenty foot high fence that surrounded District 10, capped and dressed with razor and barbed wire.
Michael released Chelsea's hand and stepped right up to the fence, his moving abdominal arms brushing against it. His other hand came up, fingers twining in the links as he stared out to the distant horizon, where the sun was breaching the edge of the world and bathing the place where the sun and the sky met a bright, brilliant gold. A richness of space that he would never know.
"I want to take a step forward."
Chelsea's lips parted as she stared at Michael, then at the open African landscape. After a moment she stepped up to his side and took his hand, squeezing gently. Michael exhaled sharply and looked at her, his fathomless gaze filled with desperate longing. She didn't know what she had expected him to do or say when she had taken his hand, and a part of her had been both thrilled and terrified. But now, seeing his expression, she realized it didn't matter.
"I'll see what I can do."
Tl;dnr is at the bottom in bold. For convenience, I have split this into several sections.
My dearest readers and reviewers,
Never let it said that I don't cherish each and every one of you (yes, even you flamers. Here. Have a cookie). However, there has something that has been brought to my attention that I feel I can't ignore. And, yes, I am blatantly exploiting you, right now, but don't worry. This will be put on every single one of my fanfictions, so you're not the only ones.
As some of you may be aware, there have been a mass deletion of fanfictions and account suspensions and even bannings on this site. People are losing their stories and their accounts. Talented writers. Beginner writers. Hobbyists. This is due to their fictions being reported for infractions on this site's rules, all because of an elitist stranglehold and monopoly of membership and participation on this site.
'Critics United'/ 'Literate Union'
Aka, an attempt to validate vicious cyberbullying
Now, let it never be said that I think that the rules should be violated, or that violations should be allowed. They are there for many reasons, most primarily legal. has been careful to ensure that we are all able to post fanfictions on this site, an act in and of itself that can be considered legally questionable. After all, we are appropriating intellectual property that belongs to those that are not ourselves, aren't we (although let me remark on the hilarity of having potentially plagiarised images on our plagiarised stories). Those who run have done incredible work, voluntarily, and are amazing people for doing so. However, whether or not these fictions violate the rules, or the validation of the removal of their works is not what I am bringing to light here. You are able to formulate your own opinion on the matter, and you are responsible for your own works.
As well as your own behaviour.
And it is behaviour that I wish to address here. The horrendous and reprehensible behaviour of members of this site who have joined together in a hateful mission of cyber bullying. Because that is exactly what this is; the most deplorable example of victimisation and antagonism I have ever seen on this site. These people specifically target stories that violate this site, and persistently hover over it like vultures, pecking away at the victim until they get what they want; which is ultimately a deletion of all stories that violate the rules of this site.
These are not people who report stories and move on. They have made it their mission to see deleted each and every single fiction that exhibits an infraction of the rules, however major or minor, and in the process humiliate and persecute the authors who – as I have seen many of them state – are apparently deserving of the ridicule that this group inflicts upon them.
And they have a forum dedicated to this end. On this site. There, they collate fictions that they have seen deleted, either directly or indirectly, in a hall of shame. They also bring forth fictions for judgement by their fellows for the sole purpose of deciding whether or not it violates the rules and, if it can be proven that it does violate the rules, they proceed to head to the fiction en-mass to spam the story's review feed and report the fiction if they don't comply to the site's rules.
They collate deleted fictions in a 'hall of shame' topic that allows them to display all the fictions that have been deleted because of their actions. They congratulate each other on a job well done. They laugh at poor writing, drag people through the dirt, and for what? So that they can feel good about their 'hard work'? So that they can feel as though they have some great power holding life or death over these fictions, passing judgement on these authors?
Now, for their credit, they seem to think they are doing the right thing. They ensure to discuss questionable fics, ensure that they are breaking rules, and then go and report. And some of them are courteous and polite about their warnings. On the forum, one person this:
"1. None of the people on this site are god, but the admins on this sitedodecide what stories get to be on here based on the guidelinesyouagreed to.
2. The people here don't report stories because they're bad, we report stories because they break guidelines. (This includes horrific spelling, grammar, and chat-speak.) Given, if it is a bad story, we might tear it to pieces with our criticism, but we don't report it."
This statement is of merit, and would be acceptable, if it were not for the fact that, four posts down, the same person posted this:
"Reviewed and reported. Really, do all stupid fangirls really think they're going to get away with absolute crap like this? Just as well, why must all of them put it in eye-blinding bold and italics?"
The hypocrisy of them trying to claim some noble cause while passing these personal judgements sickens me. After all, I don't know about you, but I am a fangirl of many things, and saying such disparagingly judgemental terms makes me feel like this person puts themselves at a level far above my own. I don't want to seem arrogant or egotistical when I say this, but I would dearly love to see this person use the term 'fangirl' as an insult to my face.
One group of people call themselves 'Critics United', but I can safely say that their self-titling is pathetic. These people are not critics. They are bullies hiding under a guise of justification because they are only targeting those that break the rules of this site. A cause like that does not explain or validate their actions in any way. It is not less bullying, it is not less a ridiculous display of egotism, and it is no less an act of victimisation. This is not critiquing, this isn't even constructive criticism, as they like to claim it. I am a critic. I am a literature student. And I would never, ever equate these people with holding the role of critique, unless they are referring to the meaning of being negative naysayers.
Moreover, you do not justify your actions as constructive criticism when you force it down someone's throat. Not everyone can handle constructive criticism, and you don't get to stamp your words and self-stylise in order to validate such criticism when someone doesn't want it. That is still bullying.
The fact that these people try to veil their victimisation behind courteous and polite words doesn't make it any less bullying. Doesn't make it any less than a vindictive desire to hold some elitist hold over writing over this site, and proclaim themselves judge, jury and executioner of people's fictions. They have been screenshotted in reviews saying things like 'piece of **' 'toxic crap' and directly insulting people's writing skill. I don't know about you, but this kind of juvenile behaviour cannot be considered 'critiquing'. That behaviour is disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. How dare they hold some holier-than-thou attitude over other writers and maintain some sort of integrity because they are 'enforcing the rules'.
As I have said, I do not condone rule breaking in any way, shape or form on this site, and I have been careful to ensure that my own fics do not break the rules. But that does not mean that I feel I have a right to hunt down all the fics that do break the rules. It is the responsibility of each and every member to ensure their works don't break the rules, and to report those that flaunt the rules.
And then move on.
Making a group for the sole purpose of some self-imposed duty of policing disgusts me. The idea that someone has read my fictions, nodded their head and said 'You pass', decreeing that I would be allowed to post not merely because I have followed the rules, but because they gave me permission to disgusts me. These people have taken a power that belongs to everyone, and decided to turn it toward their own means, believing that they are safe and okay because they are merely upholding the rules of the site. When, in actuality, that is not at all merely what they are doing.
And what is worse, is condoning their behaviour. I do not believe that the administrators of this site are reading the stories they have deleted, validating that they violate the rules, and then deleted them based on their own judgement. Instead, they are going after people based on the report count listed by their name, a count that this group, Critics United, is largely responsible for.
For those members of this group who feel that they have some form of duty to patrol this site for this purpose, but are careful and courteous in their reviews and warnings, I'm sorry. But you willingly associate with this ego-trip and I am afraid you are not completely free of blame.
For those of you that use this as an excuse to flaunt your superiority over others, and then claim no responsibility for your actions because you are 'upholding the rules'… There is no excuse, justification, or validation for your behaviour. None.
Nor is there an excuse, justification, or validation for 's condoning of it.
A worse group, however, is the Literate Union, which is almost identical to Critics United except for the fact that they are fully aware of the fact that all they do is flame, degrade and viciously bully those who they believe is worthy. They are everything I have stated above, without an attempt to justify their cruel behaviour. These people are slightly more self-aware, but even less mature in their actions. They have a forum dedicated to asking one another to specifically go and flame people and their stories, and I am at a loss as to the reason why.
Critics United have embarked on a witch hunt because they want to destroy the witches and purge their town.
Literate Union just wants to watch people squeal and burn in the flames.
This is cyber bullying, without any explanation or excuse. 'Upholding the rules' is not something I will accept. It does not require this level of hunt-and-kill execution that these people are exhibiting. It isn't their right to take it upon themselves to tear apart each author, post it on their hateful forum and giggle behind their hands with one another.
I do not want to be associated with a site that condones this blatant display of bullying.
The rating system/the bannings and deletions
AKA I think you missed one
As many readers may be aware, this time of year slows down for me because of my university. I have also been unable to post new chapters on my fanfiction because I am writing a thesis, and it is draining most of my energy. I have to work toward a Ph.D scholarship, which can range anywhere from thirty-five to sixty-five thousand taxpayer dollars, which makes me want to make sure I am deserving of it. However, I was in the process of re-writing several of my fics, and prepared to post them en-mass when I next had time.
However, I would like to draw attention to this section of the front page;
June 4th 2012 - Notices:
Please note we would like to clarify the content policy we have in place since 2002. follows the Fiction Rating system ranging from Fiction K to Fiction M. Although Fiction Ratings goes up to Fiction MA, since 2002 has not allowed Fiction MA rated content which can contain adult/explicit content on the site. only accepts content in the Fiction K through Fiction M range. Fiction M can contain adult language, themes and suggestions. Detailed descriptions of physical interaction of sexual or violent nature is considered Fiction MA and has not been allowed on the site since 2002.
I would state here, briefly, that the idea of not having a mature rating for mature readers has always perplexed me. I feel making them unavailable to unregistered readers, and having a function in a profile that allows for a 'I am over the age of 18' box to be checked would cover the ethical issues in regards to this. Ethical considerations on the internet require only a disclosure of age and consent of content that is about to be read. Once a person checks a 'I am over the age of 18' box, the people who are exposing them to the information are no longer liable for any legal action. They have fulfilled their requirement of responsibility. As such, not having a mature section for this site has never really made sense for me. However, that is not what I wish to address here.
As such, I regret to inform my readers that, though the content of my stories are not exclusively of this nature, many of my fictions feature such violence in their content, from detailed description of sexual interaction (Gestalt, and the intent in Paradise Lost), and violence (pretty much every single one of my fictions). What you would consider 'detailed' and rule violating, however, is subject to opinion, but from what I have addressed, opinion is enough to get your story deleted, or your account suspended or banned. I had thought that if the story had the content, but did not feature it as the main issue – for example a romance that went into sex, but did not have sex in every chapter – would be allowed as a mature example of professional writing.
I was, apparently, wrong.
I am fortunate that all of my stories exist on my laptop and not exclusively on , but it would devastate me to lose the wonderful reviews I have gotten from you, the painstaking time that you have all put in to telling me your thoughts and feelings on my work, helping me improve, giving me invaluable feedback and encouragement. I have been dragged from the depths of writer's block and depression because of the things you have said, and I cannot even imagine how some people feel with their stories deleted, not only losing their work, but the amazing reviews that people have left for them, to show them that their work is appreciated.
And let me say that the idea that is deleting fanfictions that depict graphic sex or violence, but are allowing people like Critics United and
I also do not feel like waiting for the Critics United group to turn their attention to the Mass Effect category and rifle through it, finding my fictions and passing their judgements on my work. It isn't their right.
As such – and I know many of you are going to hate me for this, and I'm sorry –henceforth, in protest of the actions being taken on this site;
I will no longer be updating any of my fanfictions.
I will not be posting the rewrites of Paradise Lost, In the Shadow of Gods and A Cage of Butterflies that I have been working on.
I will not be posting new stories or one-shots on this site, nor any planned sequels.
Whether or not I repost my fictions elsewhere, and whether or not I post new fictions elsewhere has yet to be decided.
This is me being responsible for my own actions, my own opinions, and my own image, in that I will not be associated in any way with these people, nor will I allow their actions to go unaddressed.
This is not a message to . This is a message to you, my readers, my reviewers. Critics United are a group of vicious cyberbullies who defend their actions with the guise of 'upholding the rules'. Literate Union are simply cyberbullies who do not even try to defend their actions, and their actions are blatantly antagonistic and cruel. This does not make it any less bullying. It does not make their actions any less cruel. While I advocate that the rules be upheld, and I know that some fictions are in blatant violation of them, this group should not be allowed to continue conducting themselves as they have. These people purposefully seek out and victimising members of this site, and this is not behaviour I want to endorse, condone, forgive, be associated with, or turn a blind eye to.
I am not sure if I will post my works elsewhere for people to read. If I do, I will let you know.
I have created a tumblr for mass communication in case my account on is deleted. annewhynnfanfiction(youknoetherest) Please add me. I will keep everyone updated.
This needs to stop.
I love you all sincerely and dearly. You are my valued readers and reviewers, and you make me so happy whenever I hear anything from any of you. But this is unacceptable.
I am sorry.
For the forseable future, this is me signing out.
P.S – Feel free to send me reviews filled with rage and hate, condemnations for my actions and… well. Anger. I have marshmellows ready.